Youth sports: Are we having fun yet?

Youth sports is big business and American families spend an enormous amount of time and money on sports activities. But why? I mean, some of us spend hours in the car and on the bleachers and we spend thousands on equipment, team fees, and lessons.


In a “highly-scientific” Facebook poll, I asked … Why do you involve your kids in youth sports?

I want my child to be coachable and learn to respect authority.

I want my child to learn the value of hard work.

It is a great way for them to meet other kids.

I want my child to learn how to compete.

I want my kids to be active and healthy and have a positive body image/good self-esteem.

I want my child to learn how to overcome failure/adversity and learn how to handle winning AND losing.

I want my child to be able to work well with others (teamwork) and learn good sportsmanship.

It is an opportunity for my child to try new things.

The most common answer: TO HAVE FUN!

… and a close second: to keep them out of trouble.


But according to Changing the Game Project, more than 70% of kids drop out of organized sports by the age of 13 … and the number 1 reason they quit? They aren’t having fun. Kind of ironic. We want them to have fun and stay out of trouble, but they are quitting before the “troublesome” phase of adolescence because, despite our best efforts, they aren’t having fun.

And even if you’re one of those “all we do is win” kind of parents and you could care less about the things listed above … I’ve got news for you: The kids are quitting before they make it to the age where winning actually matters! And they’re quitting because they aren’t having fun. Not because they were on a losing team. Not because they didn’t win the championship. Not because they weren’t the fastest or the best. Kids are quitting sports because they aren’t. having. fun.

So, what’s happening?

I asked the question, “Why youth sports?” because I think why we do something directly affects HOW we do it … but is that really true? Because I have to be honest with you – I hear what we are saying … I want my kids to be coachable and have fun and develop character and humility … but then we get in the car after a game and critique their performance as if the world were hanging in the balance over that botched play at third base. Why are we even talking about that in the car? We are the parents – not the coaches. (And a note for parents who may actually be the coach … When you are in the car, you are the parent. Not the coach. Act accordingly.)

I’m hearing that we want our kids to learn how to lose and how to handle failure and competition, but no-cut “try outs” are becoming the norm and it isn’t uncommon to hand-pick travel teams as a way of safeguarding a child’s starting position.

Hmmm …

We say we want our kids to be team players, to be hard workers, to learn how to win and how to lose, and we want our kids to be … coachable. What does that even mean?

Coachable – (adj) able to be coached effectively

  •  A coachable child has a positive attitude.
  • A coachable child is respectful.
  • A coachable child listens to instruction and does her best to follow instructions and make improvements.
  • A coachable child does not already know everything/is open to learning new skills and strategies.

Notice I didn’t mention anything about speed, skill, or strength.

A coachable kid enjoys his sport. A coachable kid has fun. *Lest anyone interrupt me here and say, “I’ll tell you what’s fun – winning is fun!” Um, yeah … you think I don’t like to win? I like to win. But guess what? Winners? They’re coachable. Winning follows coachability. Excellence follows coachability. A lifelong love for sport … follows coachability.


Look …

We’ve allowed youth sports to be hijacked by this idea that all roads lead to the pros. They do not. We’ve fallen victim to this obsession that our kids are the next big thing. They probably aren’t. And the truth is that this incessant need to feed our own egos by raising extraordinary athletes is making our kids miserable … and driving them away from sport in droves.

In 2017, let’s reclaim this truth: that youth sports, when combined with positive coaches and the right kind of parent involvement, are invaluable when it comes to developing character in children. As the adults, let’s act in ways that enable our children to look forward to practices and games/races so that they continue to come back season after season. If they keep coming back, some of these kids WILL grow into extraordinary athletes!

We want our kids to be coachable … and coachability is a good indicator when it comes to longevity in the sport, so here are some simple things you can do this year to encourage coachability in your athlete:

  1. Teach your athlete to look for the silver lining in tough situations.
  2. Demand that your athlete be respectful to his coaches and teammates and, as the parent, ALWAYS demonstrate respectfulness when talking to or about your athlete’s coaches and teammates.
  3. Let your athlete tell YOU about practice/games/races – and then listen. Instead of telling her what she did wrong at practice or in the game, ask her what she learned at practice; be interested and ask lots of questions (even if you already know the answer). In doing so, you’re modeling the concept that there is always something new to learn.
  4. Take notice when your athlete demonstrates a good work ethic – “I’m proud of the way you listen to your coaches when they are talking to you,” or “I noticed that you were really working hard on dribbling with your left hand.”
  5. And always ask, “Did you have fun?”






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